Metaphor and Faith
Why did Jesus speak in parables? Was it, as is often said, in order to be more readily understood? In the book of Mark at least, nothing could be further from the truth. Here, Jesus speaks in parables precisely to prevent easy access to insight, even—shockingly—where such access might be the very key to salvation. At the same time as keeping the outsider out, however, the parables are designed to bring the insider even further in. Engagement with parables, that is, offers the elect an increase in their talent, a higher level of “faith,” where faith is closely related to abstract thought. For parabolic discourse presents the world around us as nothing more than a storehouse of metaphors: nothing we see is inherently significant, it implies, since the entire visible realm is merely a symbol for a higher plane of experience. At the end of the day, the parables’ aim is not the straightforwardly didactic ambition of communicating a complex message in simple language; it is instead the formative desire to bring a restricted audience to a new way of hearing and speaking, and thus a new way of looking at the world.
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